Sunday, 10 October 2010

Chapter 13 When you're a stranger

‘Tch! Eggs?’ snorted Abu Khalde. ‘Run downstairs and tell Imm Khalde to feed you. She made moujadara today.’

I didn’t need to be told twice. Well, I demurred a little to be polite – but there really wasn’t much feeling behind it.

I ran down the stairs in delight. We had been eating well but I was craving some home cooked Arabic food.

Imm Khalde is a petite woman with short dark hair. Her two children have grown up and moved away and, despite having moved back to Nablus some years ago, she is still adapting to life here.

As I sat with Imm Khalde and ate her delicious food we chatted away. Her soft voice envelopes you in comfort and she is extremely mother like. Her smile is just a little bit timid but you can see in her eyes that there’s a warm, engaging personality in there.

‘I wish we had stayed in Switzerland,’ she confided. ‘There’s much more freedom there. Here, everyone knows who you are and where you are going. But you see, at the time, we thought it would be better for the children.’

Khalde’s sister it seems, like many teenagers, had been having trouble reconciling her parents’ ideas of life with what she was exposed to in school. This was what had prompted the move back to Nablus.

Although, in retrospect, Imm Khalde often felt that, despite the cultural differences, her children would have had access to much better opportunities and education in Europe.

Her life here was quiet and she missed the freedom of movement she had gotten used to in Europe. She spoke of having to request a special permit to enter Israel Proper in order to accompany her sister to her Jerusalem based oncologist. These were sometimes hard to come by and she had to submit a written request justifying her visit. There were no guarantees that these requests would be granted.

There are many stories like these. Our taxi driver from Taybeh to Nablus spoke of regularly being smuggled into Tel Aviv in the boot of a car for his work. This was common practice and people pay up to 200 shekels a head for this service.

‘Eventually they found me out and banned me for five years.’

‘When was this?’ I asked envisioning him as a young man putting himself through that to feed his family.

‘Three months ago.’

I pack my bag and set off to the airport without a second thought, yet out of all my students, only one has ever been on a plane.

‘I think I was 2 years old’ she had said, her eyes squinting as she tried to retrieve the memory.

When people here find out where I’m from they are shocked that I am here.

‘Why would you leave your beautiful country for this disaster?’ they say.

‘But it is beautiful here as well’ I always reply.

‘Really?’ one young man had retorted. ‘How about we switch. Your life for mine.’

He had made his point.

The inability to move and travel is crippling. In so many ways. But let’s put aside for a moment the economic implications and lack of educational opportunity. There is also the deprivation of the benefits of exposure to the outside world. Barring things like movies, shows and music there is zero cultural exchange here.

Little wonder that it is impossible to walk down the street without having comments thrown at us from every street corner. Comments that range from ‘welcome’ and ‘how are you’ to the ubiquitous ‘fuck you’ that every Palestinian youth seems to know.

We are treated like aliens because that’s what we are. We are strangers to a people who have not had the luxury of being strangers themselves. Only the unwanted on their own land.

How does one breed relatability in this environment?

Ask me again in three months. However I suspect I’ll have even less idea than I do now.


  1. This is probably one of the most difficult environments to understand, and to empathise with. How can you possibly? Knowing all the facts is not even close to having lived through them.

    Where were you taking the students, by the way?

  2. That's exactly it Maisaloon. We know all the facts - we know them inside out. But even when you're confronted with it, it's just such a different reality and it feels so inaccessible.

    They were just walking with us! Following us home and chatting and talking. They're very sociable and you feel like they have a genuine interest and desire to interact with all the teachers here.

  3. "We are strangers to a people who have not had the luxury of being strangers themselves. Only the unwanted on their own land."

    That's brilliant!

  4. habibti - inti el brilliant xx